‘Poltergeist’ Review: Amusing but never scary

Oggs Cruz
‘Poltergeist’ Review: Amusing but never scary
'The results are amusing, but sadly, cannot justify why the remake has to happen in the first place,' writes movie reviewer Oggs Cruz

Gil Kenan’s Poltergeist opens with blotches of greens and reds. The camera then zooms out, revealing fuzzy pixels that are in a constant state of motion. The camera further zooms out, turning the pixels into horrific zombies wreaking havoc on the screen of a generic tablet. The tablet’s being held by a young boy who nonchalantly fights off the zombies without even a hint of emotion.

The boy is Griffin (Kyle Catlett), the remake’s cowardly middle child allows his younger sister Madison (Kennedi Clements) to be abducted by evil spirits living in the house his family recently relocated to. 


It is an intriguing opening, one that seems to subtle signal of surrender by Kenan, given that he is tasked to scare moviegoers who have become so desensitized to ghouls and monsters with such proliferation of media that exploits them. If photorealistic zombies cannot produce a whimper from a self-proclaimed wimp, how can Kenan, whose directorial experience is limited to kids’ flicks Monster House (2006) and City of Ember (2008), terrify with a material from the early ‘80s whose relevance has been rendered obsolete by technology?

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Updating the scares 

Kenan has no other recourse but to simply retain the narrative of Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s beloved original and revise it as he and his writer David Lindsay-Abaire, whose writing credits include children’s fare Robots (2005), Rise of the Guardians (2012), and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), see fit.

The most visible update here are the film’s spooks which for better or for worse are mostly done with the assistance of computer generated effects, making them on equal footing as the game Griffin was playing on his tablet.

Kenan also appropriates a lot of the scare tactics that recent American horror films have been utilizing, as he peppers the early parts of the film with sequences that quietly tease before going for a jolt. Unfortunately, repetition has rendered the tactic ineffective.

Somehow, Kenan seems severely uninterested with scares, accommodating standard chills and shocks simply because it is what is expected of him and of a film that is a remake of a well-regarded horror. His passion is elsewhere, somewhere in between the dynamics of the family that has been held hostage by supernatural forces and the absolute ridiculousness of the film’s premise which seems to be more appropriate as a comedy than a serious horror flick. 

Not a horror film 

Forget that Kenan’s Poltergeist is a horror film.

Instead, indulge in how Kenan has updated the family patriarch (Sam Rockwell) and turned him into a man emasculated by forces beyond him. When humiliated because two of his credit cards are rejected, he immediately goes on a shopping spree if only to prove to his family that despite the fact that he is jobless, he is still a capable provider.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

His family is a mess. His wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), seemingly calm and in control, is in constant need of being reassured by his children that she is a worthy mother. The eldest daughter (Saxon Sharbino) is the typical unsympathetic teen, who thinks she deserves everything as a matter of right. Griffin and Madison are your standard minors, at times played for their innocence, but mostly there to prove that the adult characters are vulnerable and helpless. 

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Think of the haunting as simply the impetus to get the traditional dynamics of a suburban family all topsy-turvy. The father becomes even more emasculated as he lets Griffin and a group of ghostbusters do his work of protecting the family. The mother is left without one of her reassuring children, replaced by her husband who has been rendered rattled and uncertain. Their teenage daughter is reduced to a teary-eyed wallflower. Griffin rises as a hero.

Lacking an essential element

In a way, Kenan sacrifices the very essence of Poltergeist’s horror to disassemble the dysfunction of the film’s family, which the original was not able to do. The results are amusing, but sadly, cannot justify why the remake has to happen in the first place. It is as if Kenan simply abandoned scaring because he has overestimated his film’s audience, and resolved to simply being witty and somewhat inventive. 

In the end, one does not simply forget that Poltergeist is intended to be a horror film, and not as a study or a wily experiment. No matter how excellently Kenan and Lindsay-Abaire transformed the original’s cardboard characters into understandable and contemporary people, there is still that essential element that this remake lacks, which is the ability to be remembered for all right reasons and not for the excuses. – Rappler.com

 Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ ‘Tirad Pass.’ Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios

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